After coming out to my parents, I packed a small bag with enough clothes to last a week and found asylum (i.e. a safe space) with a friend while displaced from my home. A week turned into two months. Two months living with five shirts, three pair of shorts, one pair of pants, five pair of underwear, two undershirts, three pairs of socks, one pair of sneakers and a hair brush. I was a nomad. I was not safe. And that trauma still lives with me until today. 

My father invited me to return home after a year of sleeping on unfamiliar couches and small beds. He had asked me to leave home after I came out to him. To my surprise, the floors maintained their good condition months after I flooded the entire apartment on New Year’s Eve. The tap water tasted the same: satisfyingly metallic and lukewarm. And I connected to the Wi-Fi. 

Things were also different. The couch had moved. I forgot the password to our desktop computer. The doorbell actually rang. The closet that once fettered my identity no longer belonged to me; the clothes were unrecognizable. I didn’t feel safe anymore. But I still connected to the Wi-Fi.

Last week, the University of Chicago denounced so called “trigger warnings” and the establishment of safe spaces on their campus in a letter to incoming freshmen. Dean of Students Jay Ellison wrote, “We do not cancel invited speakers because their topics prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.” 

This summer, Elon found itself in a similar conversation, when students spoke out against the university’s Baird Pulitzer Prize SpeakerKathleen Parker, a rape apologist and supporter of racial profiling. Though a student-led petition that sought to cancel the discussion, Elon maintained its position of support. 

In a climate that requires political correctness and systemic measures for inclusion, University of Chicago missed the mark. And Elon barely hits the target. In 2014, concerned students at University of Chicago created a Tumblr website titled “The Hyde Park List,” which indexed alleged rapists attending the university. The institution was one of many under investigation for mishandling assault cases in 2014 with Columbia University at the forefront of the conversation about university misconduct regarding sexual assault. To say that students “retreat” to safe spaces is to assume cowardice of students who have endured trauma, often sanctioning and supporting assumptions by universities. It also fails to criticize the infrastructure that generates feelings of unsafety for students — for example, allowing rapists to continue attending school where they committed a crime.

In retrospect, I realize that when I connected to my Wi-Fi at home, it grounded me — even after months of my absencee, it recognized me. 

Let’s think of safe spaces like Wi-Fi. There’s security in connecting, in being recognized by some technological power and having access to its resources. Once you’ve connected with the Wi-Fi it remembers you. There’s no question whether you belong or not. In the same way, safe spaces allow marginalized and traumatized people to commiserate without pressure to assimilate to the normative culture that “others” them. 

There is power in connecting without question, judgement or a password. Safe spaces do not serve to coddle sensitive liberals — they reassure students that their existence matters and that their voices and concerns are heard. Safe spaces allow students to express their vulnerability in an environment protected by people who share similar experiences. Safe spaces allow victims of assault to come together and mobilize against administrations that have failed to protect them. This is a space for communal catharsis, not unwarranted cavilling. I hope that Elon students find solace in in safe spaces around the university after Parker’s visit. 

University of Chicago, and institutions around the country, for that matter, should consider the environments they have fostered in which students no longer feel safe instead of further marginalizing them.